After winning a school art contest, Tom’s father took him for private lessons with professional artist Lee Wai On. His studies were interrupted when his father returned to Canada and Tom was left to live in Hong Kong with his brother. He withdrew, losing all interest in his academic studies. When his brother reported this to their father, the money for art lessons was withdrawn. A few years later, when Tom ran into Lee Wai On on the street, his former teacher asked him why he had stopped coming for lessons. After Tom explained, the man told him not to worry about payment and to return. That extended kindness and mentorship solidified the young teenager’s commitment to pursuing art professionally.
From 1965 to 1969, Tom studied full-time with Lee Wai On in Hong Kong. Upon his return to Canada in 1972, Tom studied visual arts at Cégep du Vieux-Montréal. He then continued his education at Concordia University from 1982-1985, studying and working in graphic design. In 2005, he made the commitment to pursue painting full time under the continued guidance of his mentor Mr. Lee, who had also moved to Canada. Mr. Lee pushed Tom to seek more abstraction in his work, which is most evident in the evolution of his painting style.
In terms of influences, many draw comparisons between the subject matter and style of Tom’s work with that of Claude Monet. Tom feels that Monet’s work is romantic and expresses emotion with an incredible light quality. He also cites Gustav Klimt’s pictorial uniqueness as inspiration, along with Klimt’s desire to paint as a way of communication over the written or spoken word. This reference rings true to Tom’s reserved personality, incredible work ethic, and continuous drive to paint. Tom is also inspired by Jackson Pollock’s ability to create space in his work between colours, which form shapes that the viewer can enter and pass through, layer by layer.
Tom is motivated to create natural environments that people can explore and discover on many levels. The subject matter of choice for Paul is always nature; he believes that nature contains the whole of creativity, and that the origins of everything can be found therein. Tom’s intimate relationship to nature, formed as a young boy, is what drives him to share his passion and connection to the natural world with others through his art.